DETROIT (May 7, 2012)—U.S. light vehicle sales rose 2 percent in April to 1.2 million units, slightly above analysts' expectations, as consumers continued to snap up new cars and other fuel-efficient models at a faster clip than trucks and SUVs.
In another sign the U.S. auto industry continues a steady recovery, light vehicles sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 14.4 million last month. That's up from 13.1 million a year earlier and matched March's 14.4 million rate.
Still, the 2-percent gain marked the smallest monthly increase since July and reflected an industry struggling to sustain the increases in previous years as the U.S. market pulled out of recession. Sales rose 20 percent in April 2010 and 18 percent in April last year.
While the recent dip in gasoline prices helped spur sales, low inventories constrained deliveries at some auto makers, said Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.
“New car sales reflect the patch of slower economic growth currently,” Taylor said. “By the end of May, we will know how much sales in the first four months of the year were a result of a particularly warm first quarter.”
Volkswagen Group set the pace with a 27-percent increase in April deliveries.
General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. posted U.S. sales declines for April while the pace of gains slowed at Chrysler Group L.L.C. Toyota Motor Corp. generated another double-digit increase.
GM sales fell 8 percent and Ford was down 5 percent. It was the largest decline for each auto maker since August 2010.
Chrysler's 20-percent gain marked its smallest since July. Toyota's 12-percent increase followed a 15-percent gain in March, signaling the auto maker's ongoing recovery from last year's natural disasters in Asia.
Nissan Motor Co. said its April sales were flat; the Hyundai-Kia Group rose 1 percent. It was the first time in 20 months that the Korean pair failed to record a double-digit U.S. gain.
U.S. light vehicle sales have now increased 10 percent this year to 4.65 million units.
Among major auto makers, Chrysler, Hyundai-Kia and Toyota have gained share this year, while GM, Ford, and Honda have lost ground. Nissan's share of the market has remained flat.
GM raised its forecast for 2012 U.S. light vehicle sales by a half million units, to a range of 14 million to 14.5 million.
“We expect gradual improvement in the economy going forward,” Don Johnson, head of U.S. sales operations for GM, said in a statement. “Over time, strength in the manufacturing sector and strong retail sales will lead to more job creation. That will help more consumers put the recession behind them.”